Sam Francis (1923-1994)
Sam Francis (1923-1994)


Sam Francis (1923-1994)
with the Sam Francis Estate stamp and stamped with the artist's signature (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
40¼ x 39 5/8in. (102.4 x 75.5cm.)
Painted circa 1948-49
The Estate of the Sam Francis, California.
Gallery Delaive, Amsterdam.
Private Collection, Europe.
Anon. sale, Christie's London, 28 June 2002, lot 185.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

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Beatriz Ordovas
Beatriz Ordovas

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Lot Essay

This work is registered with the Sam Francis Foundation as SFP48-10 and will be included in the forthcoming Sam Francis: Catalogue raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings: 1946-1994 as no. SFF.66, edited by Debra Burchett-Lere, published by the University of California Press, Berkeley, September 2011.

Sam Francis' Untitled was painted in 1948 during a period in which the artist began to emerge as one of the leaders of American Modernism. During this time he began to develop a wide range of painterly forms ranging from landscapes, seascapes and portraits to surrealist canvases influenced by Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and Paul Klee. From these artists Francis began to adopt an increasingly indifferent approach to figuration and started to explore notions of abstract representation which came to define the rest of his career. As one of only a handful of paintings to emerge unscathed from a fire at his father's house which destroyed most of his early paintings, this work stands out as a noteworthy example of the artist's work from this pivotal period.

With its translucent layers of liquid paint interrupted only by secluded areas of vibrant blues and purples and warm ochers, Untitled begins to release Francis' paintings from any vestiges of representation. The thin washes of soft, pale and muted hues and fluid simple shapes of colour emphasise the undoubtable debt to Mark Rothko. Yet in response to the Expressionist excitement of Pollock's drip paintings and the serene nebulous coloured rectangles of Rothko, Francis focused on the 'ceasless instability' inherent in both air and water which formed the basis of his painterly aesthetic and would remain the premise for his art through the rest of his life.

Although the muted background, interrupted only by isolated areas of colour, might suggest the idea of a landscape or a still-life, Francis is at pains to avoid any attempt to instill a sense of figuration by relegating these coloured areas to the edges of the canvas. By pushing these accents to the outer edges, Francis began to explore a motif that he would make his own in his later work. What mattered to him was the internal space; in his mind, he reserved the pale, internal space for the viewer, a place where he believed we could focus our psychic and physical energy.

Francis took up painting after a career in the US Army Air Corps was cut short by an accident which left him crippled and often confined to a body cast. His signature style began to emerge in the late 1940s when dripping, corpuscular shapes became his favored artistic device for representing what he termed the "ceaseless instability" that he saw as pervading the world. These luminescent, translucent forms, mixed with Francis' emerging appreciation of color, meant that his work had already moved away from the gestural and expressive imagery that dominated the work of his peers. Francis permeated works such as Untitled with the utmost grace and elegance.

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